Designing resilient creative communities through biomimetic service design

Authors: Spyros Bofylatos, Ioulia Kampasi, Thomas Spyrou

Design for sustainability
Service design

Creative communities are grassroots, bottom-up initiatives of people who through their diffuse design capacity propose new, desirable service futures that address the problems of their everyday life. The solutions designed by these communities provide a much-needed alternative to the breakdowns of the top-down sociotechnical support systems that were meant to address these needs. These creative communities exist within a transition from mo­dernity towards sustainment, the next epoch of human development. The adversarial character of these systems causes them to embody alternative values such as conviviality, solidarity, openness and shift the focus from growth to flourishing (Ehrenfeld, 2008). Not only are the systems of values adopted by these communities more compatible with sustainability they also challenge a hierarchical order. Such action is collective rather than in­dividual. It concerns a group of people who have been presupposed unequal by a particular hierarchical order, as well as those in solidarity with them, acting as though they were indeed equal to those above them in the order, and thus disrupting the social order itself.

What is disrupted are not only the power arrangements of the social order, but, and more deeply, the perceptual and epistemic underpinnings of that order. Such a disruption is what Rancière calls a “dissensus” (2010). A dis­sensus is not merely a disagreement about the justice of particular social arrangements, it is also the revelation of the contingency of the entire per­ceptual and conceptual order in which such arrangements are embedded, the contingency of what Rancière calls the partition or distribution of the sensible (le partage du sensible) (Rancière, 2010). Increasing the variety of these systems is a necessary perquisite to both overcome control from the hegemonic ideology (law of requisite variety) as well as to increase the resi­lience of these systems.

Resilience is defined as the capacity of a system to retain its organisational closure while absorbing external perturbations (Walker and Salt, 2012). The sociotechnical system that is a creative community creating social innova­tion faces constant threats due to the collapse of traditional support structu­res and their disruptive, adversarial character. Identifying strategies to in­crease the capacity of any system to resist external forces are necessary to ensure their survival in a time of unprecedented environmental and social pressures but in the context of the wider transitions towards sustainment and the necessary reconstitution of the domains of everyday life.

In order to create the strategies necessary, we turn to nature for inspiration and mentoring. Biomimisis is a framework that designs solutions inspired by biological systems. It opens up possibilities of seeing the way nature wor­ks, teaches and informs arts and sciences (Sanchez Ruano, 2016). It encou­rages deeper studies in order to arrive at technologies and strategies that may be achieved through interdisciplinary dialogues. Ecosystems display differing degrees of resilience. Understanding the strategies developed by nature to increase the resilience of eco-systems is a first step. Identifying and reframing these solutions can foster the resilience necessary for creati­ve communities to flourish. The emerging fields of biomimetic design of ser­vices can support the evolution of service design (Ivanova, 2014). methods in the context of social innovation and shift the underlying assumptions behind the decisions made. Biomimisis has proven a robust methodology for the development of solutions in the fields of material engineering and product design, applying lessons from nature is a frontier for service design and the creation of resilient organisations.

We argue that permaculture, an agroecological systemic design tradition (Cassel, 2015), provides an interesting direction for the development and re­search in the context of social innovation. In contrast to monoculture where only one type of value is the goal of the system, permaculture provides a systemic view that is focused in fostering virtuous cycles and cooperation between different symbiotic systems. Looking at creative communities as an interconnected ecosystem instead of discrete systems provides a different avenue for increasing their resilience and capability for flourishing by crea­ting positive feedback within a wider ecosystem of bottom up initiatives on both a local and global level.

This paper aims to identify strategies from different permaculture systems to approaches that when applied in sociotechnical systems lead to increased resilience. Applying these through designs can provide a way to reconstitute the domains of everyday life (Kossoff, 2015) and transition towards sustai­nability in some grassroots, distributed way. At the same time these diffe­rent ways of looking at provide a direction that seems to provide an answer to many emerging issues in the context of service design within a systems thinking framework.

In order to elaborate the strategies recognised the ‘Apano Meria’ Social en­terprise will be analysed with respect to the relationships between different focus groups and how these can increase the overall resilience of the system. The object of this case study is a collection of different creative communi­ties with various interests but connected by a common theme: enabling the flourishing of the island of Syros. In order to achieve this goal three main themes have been adopted: the environment, culture and people. Each of these themes is made up of different special interest groups that are inter­connected both within the theme and in the wider scope of the community. For example, in the context of the environment different groups of people are working with the fauna and the flora while a different team looks at issues of marine ecology. Additionally, a different community studies the unique geological characteristics of the island. All of these teams are in an open dialogue amongst them and with the legal team that either informs them of legal framework or translates their wants and need to law propo­sals. Understanding the flows of information, the juxtaposition of people in different roles as well as increasing the overall diffuse design capacity of the participants in the social enterprise is the first step in creating a resilient or­ganisation. Identifying relevant biological models that create virtuous cycles and translating these to design strategies will increase variety, resilience and the contingency between different people and communities.


Ivanova, D. (2014), Biomimetic Services. A new perspective on the design for services, (Master’s Thesis) Ravensbourne University, London

Sanchez Ruano, D. (2016), Symbiotic Design Practice Designing with-in nature, (PhD Dissertation) University of Dundee Rancière, J. (2015). Dissensus: On politics and aesthetics.

Rancière, J. (2015). Dissensus: On politics and aesthetics. Bloomsbury Publishing.

Cassel, J. B. (2015) Permaculture as a Systemic Design Practice, contributions, Challenges and New Developments. In Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design (RSD4) 2015 Symposium. Banff, Canada, September 1-3, 2015.

Walker, B. & Salt, D. (2012). Resilience thinking: sustaining ecosystems and people in a changing world. Island Press.

Ehrenfeld, J. (2008). Sustainability by design: A subversive strategy for transforming our consumer culture. Yale University Press.

Presentation & paper

Posted: Oct-2018

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